In the pull-out bed with my brother in my grandfather’s Riverton apartment my knees and ankles throbbed from growing, pulsing so hard they kept me awake— or was it the Metro North train cars flying past the apartment, rocking the walls, or was it the sound of apartment front doors as heavy as prison doors clanging shut? Was the Black Nation whispering to me from the Jet magazines stacked on the floor, or was it my brother’s unfamiliar ions vibrating, humming in his easeful sleep? Tomorrow, as always, Grandfather will rise to the Spanish-Town cock’s crow deep in his head and perform his usual ablutions, and prepare the apartment for the day, and peel fruit for us, and prepare a hot meal that can take us anywhere, and onward. Did sleep elude me because I could feel the heft of unuttered love in his tending our small bodies, love a silent, mammoth thing that overwhelmed me, that kept me awake as my growing bones did, growing larger than anything else I would know?
From Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 (Graywolf Press, 2010). Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Alexander. Used with the permission of Graywolf Press.
Elizabeth Alexander was born in 1962 in Harlem, New York, and grew up in Washington, D.C. She currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Date Published: 2017-11-27
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/tending